Sticks and Stones: Being Hurt by a Christian Review of Coraline

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Guest Writer, Seth T. Hahne. Besides commenting incessently here, he also occasionally blogs at Nowheresville, USA.

As a Christian and something of a minor connoisseur of creative product including-but-not-limited-to literature, cinema, music, games, and comics, I am frequently concerned by the inappropriate reaction the American Christian subculture foments against imaginations it either misapprehends or flatly distorts by reason of dogma alone. Quite plainly, I live a life of frustration and cynicism—and not frustration and cynicism brought about through my noble struggle against a cruel and oppressive reality, one forged by children of the serpent, sons of Cain and Lamech and Agag.

That would be too simple, too straightforward. Too, perhaps, modern. We live in supposedly postmodern times and so the villains of my life story likely cannot be those who wear black and twirl moustaches. Obvious antagonists don’t any longer strike us as realistic, so my villains wear the camouflage of camaraderie. Those who assault me are those I call brothers.

But then, the first killer was the killer of his brother, so I suppose I get off easy merely being frustrated and disappointed by my brothers. After all, in a more modern world, Michael Karounos might be trying to kill me as well as hurt me in my heart.

Michael Karounos is (according to fifteen minutes of Googling) an assistant professor of English at Trevecca Nazarene University, where I imagine he does not intentionally hatch schemes designed to thwart my sense of peace with the world around me. Intentions aside, however, he has done very well at this one particular activity. He also participates in the Journal of Religion and Film, betraying a point (or two) at which our personal interests converge. It is in Karounos’ interest as a reviewer of film that he has demolished my hope in humanity for this week.

Which is perplexing because, from what I gather, he’s not necessarily a bad sort. I mean, he praised Steamboy, after all. (Though to be fair, he does seem a little too hurt by that film’s quote-unquote anti-Christian message; why is it that anything that treats cultural Christendom with criticism—or let’s be honest, with anything less than fanboy’s adulation—automatically becomes an entrenched anti-Christian message?)

In any case, Karounos was brought to my attention earlier this week in that he wrote a supposedly amusing review of the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. Neil Gaiman, at least, found it amusing (“Funniest Coraline review ever“). Now Gaiman has no paucity of followers and so within minutes of him advertising for Karounos’ review, the page was pretty thoroughly crashed. He then linked to the Google cache that the hilarity might continue unabated.

I wept.

In my soul. From embarrassment. I do this whenever some member of our diasporous community says ridiculous things and those things are tied to the name of Christ. I do this a lot. Or at least a lot more than I feel I should. With Karounos, I feel the sting even more since from reading a little of his work over the past couple days, I feel like he shouldn’t be the one making me this frustrated. He should know better.

But maybe that makes it worse.

In any case, in his review of Coraline, Karounos so thoroughly misinterprets the film that he ends up railing against a movie that doesn’t really exist. He sees slights against his (our) faith in every crevice of the film. He even sees them on its surfaces.

In the book, the Other Mother punishes Coraline: “You needed to be taught a lesson, but we temper our justice with mercy here; we love the sinner but hate the sin.” The speech is clearly a slam at the kind of home where mothers cook and fathers work and parents speak of “sin” and “sinner” and “mercy” and “justice.” It is the kind of home that atheists imagine Christians live in: a Stepford Family reality of puppet people with no creativity or individuality.

Rather than take the most plain-faced view, that the scene demonstrates that even the most innocuous or kindly words can become chilling when put in the mouths of monsters, Karounos works on the belief that Gaiman is lashing out, as if Coraline was his opportunity to say, “Take that, Stupid Christianity!” Karounos implies as well that the Other Mother’s domestic-goddess qualities shine forth an atheist’s vision of hell, one in which domesticity is a stand-in for Christianity and as such is intolerable and terrifying—forgetting that it was the domesticity and creativity and verve of the Other Mother and Father that made them desirable, that made them a picture of heaven (a picture that rotted only when the facade of these heavenly things could no longer be maintained).

The evil is a mother who cooks and cleans and the good is a rejection of that mother.

Additionally Karounos sees a film fraught with misogyny, perversion, and celebrated family dysfunction (“Gaiman’s perverse view of relationships, an atheistic view of family”), speaking more perhaps to fundamentalist hang-ups than to any actual content in Coraline‘s. He even goes so far as to imply motive for laughter on the parts of children in attendance.

[The film] portrays a naked Miss Forcible as a strip dancer wearing a sequined thong and stripper’s pasties on impossibly huge breasts. The children in the audience cried out their disgust in tones of amusement and surprise, as if to say, “So that’s what they look like without any clothes!” It is a deeply misogynistic image which will elicit disgust in any Christian viewer, regardless of age.

Not only was the scene not misogynistic (deeply or otherwise), but it failed to elicit disgust in any member of the group of Christians with whom I attended the screening (myself and six females with ages ranging between 15 and 28). Further, none of the many children in the audience seemed disgusted either. It should here be noted that the supposed naked woman is actually just a full-body suit that the actual woman is wearing—making her, if anything, the exact and total opposite of nude.

Karounos, at final tally, has many more complaints about the film than any moderate-sized article can treat, but please suffice it to say that he misapprehends the film with nearly every criticism. He concludes that “Coraline is a bad movie for children and a disturbing movie for adults” and so he demonstrates society’s typical inability to grasp childhood and perhaps offers glimpse into the make-up of his own fears, calling attention to what disturbs him personally.

In the end, I suppose this isn’t so much about problems with a single reviewer’s interpretation of a film, but more about how we should respond and react to such opinions when they not only run deeply counter to our own experience and belief but then follow to become points of embarrassment to the faith we cherish so strongly and of derision to those who stand apart from our community. Karounos’ perception of the film, Coraline, was far enough off-base from Gaiman’s intent or Selick’s production that Gaiman goes on to characterize by implication the reviewer as insane. Karounos’ grip on reality aside, the review does come off as hysterical and, being published by an overtly Christian endeavor (ChristianAnswers.net publishes a large number of Karounos’ reviews), adds more bitterly to the perception of Christians as being those divorced from reality and absented from sensible interaction with reality’s produce.

How is it that we are to deal with living in a world in which the things we love are tarnished by inside hands? How are we to deal with a Christianity that seems intent on devouring itself? Whether we are considering poorly conceived film reviews, a so-called Christian music scene that leaves little room for anything but unoriginal pap, or a publishing empire that produces more dross than the Penny Dreadfuls of yesteryear, I suspect that cynicism and frustration, while cathartic, are not the healthiest solutions.

We recognize that the church is comprised of those who run the spectrum of mental prowess, from the nigh-unto-genius to the intellectually lamed. There is little we can do about that for, after all, people are people and few will measure the high water mark. Patience and charity, I suspect, are important—but simultaneously we recognize the need for keeping accountable those who do the name of Christ harm by their public quote-unquote ministry. So how does the balance unfold? In all reality, there is nothing that a single individual can do in the face of reviews like Karounos’ Coraline treatment or of Movieguide’s desired return to a Hayes-Code-era system of Hollywood morality. So what? A counter-offensive built on better responses to cultural produce? A personal life devoted to living intelligently and circumspectly and tying the name of Christ to one’s success? Prayer that the bad would stop? Or just a stubborn resignation that brothers will continue to bring mockery upon the brotherhood while maintaining thankfulness that one’s antagonizer is merely a Karounos and not a Cain?

  • Alan Noble

    I wounder what The Dane will have to say about this post.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    The Dane is wondering if it will again fall to him to take up the adversarial gauntlet in order to combat this article’s drivel. I admire this Hahne kid’s gumption, but he’s kind of long-winded. And does he even have a thesis statement?

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://www.christandpopculture.com/ Richard Clark

    @The Dane – I never thought I would say this, but I completely agree.

  • http://nowheresville.us Seth T. Hahne

    Huh. While I’m sure Dane is glad to have your support, Rich, I don’t see a lot of merit in his criticisms here. It strikes me that he was just pressed for something to say and so lashed out in whatever petty way he could.

    As he is wont.

    See, here’s the thing fellas. I’ve always considered that thesis statements impinge upon the joys of communication and demonstrate either an author’s lack of confidence in his ability to tell a story or signal the author is less concerned in crafting a work of interest and more concerned in paying homage to the status quo.

    As for windedness, Dane should look to his own house before taking others to task.

    Seth T. Hahnes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    Is Seth mocking me by usurping my Gravatar like that?

    The Danes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://nowheresville.us Seth T. Hahne

    Here’s an interesting post I just saw in relation to the Karounos/Coraline/Christian Answers thing. Especially notable was the blogger’s reaction to all the Christians who were saying how well they related to Rorschach, one of Watchmen‘s several psychopaths. This is the kind of thing I was talking about.

    Seth T. Hahnes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • Mink

    So what’s with writing “quote-unquote” instead of using the old standby quotation marks? Rhetorical panache? Without the punctuation to indicate where the quote ends, it’s a bit confusing. Or is there in fact no actual quotation being used?

  • http://nowheresville.us Seth T. Hahne

    Chalk it up more to a stylistic tic. I tend to use quotation mark punctuation when quoting something verbatim—provided it’s not long enough to merit a <blockquote&rt;. I use the verbal cue, quote-unquote, the way people use it in real speech: to either quote ideally or to give dubious hue to the immediately following phrase.

    In the article, I use the device twice: the first time to quote via paraphrase an idea that crops up a lot in Karounos’ writing, that these films convey anti-Christian messages or purpose; and the second time to put spin on the concept of ministry as ubiquitously used in its parachurch sense and forwarded with apparent abandon by the proliferation of so-called internet ministries. In the latter sense, think of the device as another way of saying “so-called.”

    Does that help?

    Seth T. Hahnes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • http://www.aaronhall.com/ Minnesota Attorney

    I am often surprised at how the reviews on this blog go deeper into a movie than nearly any other review I read. What some see as a simple, entertaining, cartoon movie is analyzed for its deeper life lessons and subtle messages—Very thought provoking.

    Minnesota Attorneys last blog post..Minnesota Personal Injury Law: Uninsured Motorist Coverage

  • Tothmagen

    “Obvious antagonists don’t any longer strike us as realistic, so my villains wear the camouflage of camaraderie. Those who assault me are those I call brothers.”

    It seems a little disturbing that a Christian would consider his chief source of frustration in the world another Christian who posts a bad movie review. Get some perspective. There is real evil in the world that presents real opposition to the love of Christ.

    “I wept.

    In my soul. From embarrassment. I do this whenever some member of our diasporous community says ridiculous things and those things are tied to the name of Christ. I do this a lot. Or at least a lot more than I feel I should. With Karounos, I feel the sting even more since from reading a little of his work over the past couple days, I feel like he shouldn’t be the one making me this frustrated. He should know better.”

    I wonder if the author has ever said any ridiculous things tied to the name of Christ? Let’s have some grace for our brother and sisters. Rather than publicly defaming and ridiculing each other, we should be learning how to love each other. “You will know them by their love.” Rather than simply disavowing a fellow Christian, the author would do better to offer a constructive and respectful corrective to the original view. Perhaps then he would not spend all of his time isolated in impotent “frustration and cynicism.”

    We should be saddened far more by Christians who scorn and reject each other than by those who write silly or bad movie reviews.

  • Alan Noble

    Tothmagen,

    I would encourage you to reread this post. The focus is upon Seth’s struggle to balance a recognition that a brother did something ridiculous with the knowledge that he should love that brother. In other words, his point is the same point you are making:

    “We recognize that the church is comprised of those who run the spectrum of mental prowess, from the nigh-unto-genius to the intellectually lamed. There is little we can do about that for, after all, people are people and few will measure the high water mark. Patience and charity, I suspect, are important—but simultaneously we recognize the need for keeping accountable those who do the name of Christ harm by their public quote-unquote ministry.”

  • http://nowheresville.us Seth T. Hahne

    @Tothmagen:
    While my frustration with people who make Christianity seem inane by their reactions or interactions with the culture around them is pretty far from being among my chief concerns in this world, it is still a very real concern for me. (Like Salmonella: it’s important, but I don’t think about it all the time.) Just as I imagine my seemingly petty complaints here don’t embody your own chief frustration but do represent a just concern nonetheless.

    As Alan says, my purpose is to prompt exploration of the question: how ought a believer react when a fellow believer (and especially one with public following) makes Christianity (and Christ by extension) look bad?

    There is, as you mention, the importance of love, of charity, of peace, of unity. There are also questions of truth, of accountability, of responsibility. And I don’t necessarily think these things are exclusive of each other. It’s a tough path to negotiate I think; and yet, we pretty much have to find some way of navigating such things.

    You chose a method you were comfortable with: by chastising me publicly. In all honesty, while I might be inclined to agree with some of your critique, I didn’t find your method of dealing with things much different from mine (save mine was more long-winded). Perhaps if we’re both wrong, we can find a healthier form of reaction together.
    _____________

    Additionally, in focusing your response upon the wrongs of my own article, you didn’t take time to outline how you think someone who is offended by Karounos’ article should respond. And that’s fine—you’re free to comment on what you will. But I am interested to hear any ideas on how to best react to such things.

    Ignore it, hoping it will go away? Write ChristianAnswers.net requesting they take responsibility? Write Karounos? Ignore it, but create a positive model and hope that people will see the good of the new model and dismiss the bad of the old? How do you think one should react?

    Seth T. Hahnes last blog post..20081119.ChurchLies

  • Allana

    Well, I think that a Christian point is very important for my children! This is not a beautiful movie. This is brain rotting for christians! It makes kids thinks twice about what mommy and daddy believe… is true!

  • http://nowheresville.us Seth T. Hahne

    Hey Allana, thanks for your comments. I do agree that parents should be able to prevent their children from engaging certain fictions if they believe such things are harmful to their developing minds. That said, I have a couple questions, if you don’t mind contributing to the dialogue here.

    1) I am curious how the movie makes kids think twice about what their parents believe? If my memory serves, Coraline never critiques the beliefs or advice of Coraline’s parents. Granted, I haven’t seen the movie in some time now, but the impression I retain is that the movie was utterly unconcerned with establishing the value of her parents (though it did critique slightly the value of her imposter parents). Any insight you could deliver would be helpful.

    2) Do you have any examples of how Coraline is brain-rotting? We found it a largely enjoyable experience and I sympathized with the plights of both Coraline and her parents. And I found the movie both beautifully animated and beautifully written.

    Thanks for any help or insight you can offer.

    Seth T. Hahnes last blog post..20090417.teaParty

  • Michael Karounos

    Hey, Seth,

    I ran across your article by accident and what an eye-opener! Thanks for the love, man! As horrible as you may think the review of Coraline was, I’m relieved that I didn’t write your review of my review. Well. We can’t agree all the time, I suppose. Although I should be grateful for the notoriety as opposed to being ignored, I do think your argument is disingenuous in that you cherry-pick and distort quotes to serve your rhetorical purpose. But that’s fine. A good rant must take liberties otherwise it’s not a rant. Still, I’d be curious to hear your interpretation of Gaiman’s quotations that I cite. Are they not relevant? Do they give no indication of intent? I’ll only call you out on one thing. Although I criticize the movie, I don’t make any ad hominem statements against Gaiman or Selick. I think you are well within your rights to rip a review to pieces if you don’t agree with it, but you don’t know me. And if one were to judge you by how you judged a stranger, how would you, writing as you do, judge yourself?

    Best wishes. No, really!
    Michael Karounos

  • http://nowheresville.us Seth T. Hahne

    Hey Michael, thanks for stopping by. Rich alerted me to your comment here and updated me on some other issues you had with the article here. I think in a lot of ways, you’re misunderstanding me, so hopefully some explanations will help us at least to sit on the same page from where we can critique each other’s thoughts and words. I’ll start with some things I think you misunderstood.

    1) As far as ad hominems go, I really didn’t employ any at all. And I never called names. I certainly expressed pretty plainly my frustration with the degree to which I felt you misinterpreted the film. I presented you as someone bent on antagonizing me and then within the scope of the article took it back, acknowledging that such obviously wasn’t the case. At one point I did propose that the reason for your apparent misapprehension of the film may have been birthed of certain fundamentalist biases; I suppose that one could take umbrage to being tied to fundamentalists, but I only mentioned it as a potential source from which the interpretive framework you employed may have sprung.

    Rich mentioned that you were particularly stuck on the reference to Cain—he mentioned your concern that I had essentially called a murderer/madman. If this was truly a concern of yours, then let’s please put it to rest. In the article, I never represented you as Cain. In fact, in two places (once in the beginning and once in the final sentence) I state that you are not comparable to Cain. I suggest, in the end, that the reviewer who frustrated me was really not that big a deal, that he was “merely a Karounos and not a Cain.” That’s like saying, “Man, I’m no fan of Bush, but at least he’s no Hitler.” It is a recognition that despite my frustrations, things aren’t near so bad as they could be.

    And that was no ad hominem and no attack on your character. If anything, I was attacking your ability to interpret film. Which is an attack you’re allowed to be unhappy with, but please don’t think I was attacking you—because that just wasn’t in the article.

    2) Rich mentioned that you didn’t think it fair for me to put words into Gaiman’s mouth regarding his estimation of your sanity (a topic I myself never spoke on), so I thought I’d reexplain how that came about. Gaiman, happening upon your review of the movie, Twittered the above quoted comment, “funniest Coraline review ever.” In response to this, somebody named gracemonk replied with, “I am comforted that you know the great Gene Wolfe, and so know that real Christians are not idiots.” To which Gaiman replied back: “already linked in my blog to several very sane Christian reviews. [Karounos' review] would have been funny whatever the agenda, though.”

    On reflection, it may not be fair to say that Gaiman is characterizing you yourself as insane, but merely your review—since logically a perfectly sane person can write something perfectly insane. I apologize for potentially misrepresenting Gaiman by applying his words to the author instead of to the work, as he probably intended. In any case, I wasn’t there representing you as insane but simply demonstrating the affect your words have on those who are not Us.

    3) I never judged you. I did however judge your interpretation of the movie and expressed some hesitation toward your interpretive abilities (while praising them somewhat as well, just not in connection to Coraline). We should not confuse these things.

    4) I didn’t feel like I distorted the portions of your text that I quoted. You are welcome, however, to explain what I missed. That would be helpful. As well, I didn’t feel like I was cherry-picking in a negative sense. I read your article, was very frustrated by it the whole of it, and highlighted some of the portions that were indicative of my frustrations. If you could explain how that was cherry-picking, I’d likewise be grateful.

    5) Rich mentioned your concerns about my liberalism. I thought I’d reassure you that I’m quite conservative, attend a congregations in a notably conservative denomination, and attended the film with a gaggle of conservative Christian girls (several of whom are homeschooled for conservative Christian reasons). So let’s not let that be a distraction for us.
    _____________________________________

    So with those out of the way, I’d like to respond to your requests from your comment. How to deal with the two Gaiman quotes mentioned? [I'm not sure how the formatting will do on this since it'll be a blockquote within a blockquote, but we'll see.]

    Gaiman’s perverse view of relationships may have to do with the fact that he is reacting against the Disney model:

    Have you ever had to watch The Disney Channel, and the kind of plots that are deemed acceptable on that channel? Let me give you an example: Somebody thinks that everybody’s forgotten their birthday, but they haven’t, because they were planning a surprise party all along! And everybody loves everybody, and then they hug. It’s almost like pornography [everybody laughs]. It presents this vision of an impossibly hospitable world which children know doesn’t exist.

    I think, for one, that a reader would have to begin with the view that Gaiman holds a perverse view of family and relationships in order to filter anything nefarious into the quoted discussion. And I don’t really grant that presupposition, not without convincing evidence.

    As to the quote, you make bones about him referring to such happy pap as pornography for children. I actually see his point. He’s not saying it would be a bad thing if that were the way it were in real life. What he’s saying is that real life is not nearly so easy-peasy. Every story does not have a happy ending and sometimes parents do forget their child’s birthday, do forget their children at stores, do fail to meet their children’s superheroic expectations of what a good parent should be. When he’s saying that this Disneyfied is akin to pornography for children, he’s echoing the kind of sentiment that hundreds of commentators leveled at James Cameron’s Titanic when it was the pop stuff, that the film was Pornography for women. We all understand that Disney and Titanic aren’t true pornography, but we usually also understand that what’s being said is that these things are unfortunate because they present a cardboard fantasy for people to latch onto. Remember when women were walking out of Titanic saying that they finally, after forty-three years understood for the first time what love was?

    So far as Disney-porn is concerned, Gaiman’s point I think is wouldn’t it be far better to present a more realistic story that explores ways to deal with the broken world than present world’s in which our problems were never really problems in the first place?

    For you to essay that quote into an exploration of how Gaiman doesn’t understand real pornography seemed disingenuous.

    And I had a small, Wednesday Addams sort of daughter who liked stories with strange mothers and cellars and dank places and creepy stuff, and so I started to write her one. And then I realized I hadn’t written anything for 5 years, and I’d better get a contract, otherwise it would never be finished. So I sent it to a publisher, and my editor called me up and said, ‘So what happens next?’ and I said, ‘If you send me a contract, we will both find out.

    You call this revealing and then launch into an explanation of how Real Myths (as if there are such things) such as those offered up by the triumvirate of Christian fantasy explore the nature of absolute good and evil. You criticize Coraline for not being Tolkein or Lewis or MacArthur, which seemed odd since it’s not trying to be those. You complain that in the film, the evil is a mother who cooks and cleans and the good is a rejection of that mother. Of course, this isn’t the case at all, being a vast oversimplification and misrepresentation of the story and its elements. You indicate the the above quote represents the idea that no good thing can come from an author who writes for a paycheck, but you do not justify the position or the connection.

    Certainly there’s more to be said, but not right now.

    Seth T. Hahnes last blog post..20090417.teaParty

  • Michael Karounos

    Seth,
    I appreciate you trying to walk back your criticisms, but go back and objectively look at all the ad hominem claims you direct at me: “antagonist,” “villain,” one of “those who assault me,” an “antagonizer,” “hysterical,” “insane,” one of those who “bring mockery on the brotherhood,” etc. My personal favorite is, “After all, in a more modern world, Michael Karounos might be trying to kill me as well as hurt me in my heart.” Wow. It seems to me the hostility has all been one way. Suggesting a reviewer you don’t agree with is so morally degenerate that he could possibly kill you under different circumstances is beyond the pale don’t you think? Anyway, I’m waiting to hear from the eds about being given space to write a response.
    Best wishes,
    m.

  • http://nowheresville.us The Dane

    You could always use this space right here to form a response. That’s generally how it works. Responses to articles usually occur in the dialogue back-and-forths that inhabit the comment sections. I suppose if you were to write an article evaluating the state of the Christian critic of Christian critics and how a Christian should criticize and receive criticism, then that might be worth an article.

    The Danes last blog post..20090417.teaParty

  • http://nowheresville.us Seth T. Hahne

    @Michael – I’m not certain I’m following you when you say ad hominem. Are you referring to the argumentation fallacy? Or just to pejorative language?

    If the former, then I plead Not Guilty, for none of my argument (that fellow Christians often frustrate us by saying things that are perceived as silly by those outside our community and we should come up with a better means of dealing with that frustration than mere venting) rested on ad hominem abuse of you or anyone. In reality, though your name was invoked often as the author of the article I chose to use as my synechdochical example, the article wasn’t about you.

    If the latter, then I still don’t really find the examples you cite compelling. Let’s take them one by one:

    Antagonist/antagonizer/villain:
    First a little set-up. I read Gaiman’s mention of a silly review of his movie. Then I saw him characterize it as an insane review opposing it against “sane” reviews. I followed the link, ready to read something desperately funny. And I probably would have found it hilarious if it weren’t for the fact that it was a Christian review on an overtly Christian website.

    Boy was I frustrated. This stuff happens all the time. It seems like every time a Christian gets press, it’s some alarmist rant. Or else somebody just saying terribly embarrassing things. And as I read your review, it really did smack of that alarmist type of hysteria. Whether that’s what it was or not, that’s the perception the review created, both by its tone and by its inaccuracies when dealing with the material.

    Because it feels like I’m running across this type of thing all the time, I thought I’d characterize myself in the piece as a paranoiac. As someone who feels like people are writing and saying these kinds of things just to ruin his day. In the scope of the article, it was entirely appropriate for me to then characterize you as my antagonist, as someone who has set out to antagonize me with his words.

    Of course, I make plain in the text of the article that this isn’t really the case.

    Those who assault me:
    While just a continuation of the previously mentioned framing device, this one works fine even apart from that. If I, as a reader, found myself assaulted by the words of your review, does it not make sense to say so? Part of the reason I experienced such frustration while reading your review of the film was that I found it painful to absorb each section of the review. Watching you so thoroughly, in my estimation, misread and misapply the details of Coraline actually hurt me inside. It is not, then, an unnecessary exaggeration to describe the act of causing me such pain an assault (speaking figuratively, as any reader should ascertain).

    Hysterical:
    This was not applied to you but to the review. And not just to the review but to a perception of the review. A perception that I stand by. When you say things like,

    In the book, the Other Mother punishes Coraline: “You needed to be taught a lesson, but we temper our justice with mercy here; we love the sinner but hate the sin.” The speech is clearly a slam at the kind of home where mothers cook and fathers work and parents speak of “sin” and “sinner” and “mercy” and “justice.”

    your review really does come off as hysterical. I’m sorry, it just does. Maybe not to all readers, but to a lot of us.

    Insane:
    Not my words, really. I misreported Gaiman implying that you were insane, when what Gaiman really implied was that your review was insane. And I already apologized for that episode of misreporting.

    One of those who bring mockery on the brotherhood:
    This, actually, is fact. Whether intentionally or not, whether justifiably or not, your review did bring mockery on Christendom. It was cited as yet one more example of Christianity’s divorce from reality. It absolutely did instigate mockery and it is absolutely fair for me to say so.

    You being morally degenerate and a potential murderer if only we lived in the modern era instead of the post-modern:
    I’m pretty sure that of all the people who read the review, nobody read that and thought: Wow, is Michael Karounos a borderline killer and morally depraved? With the exception of yourself, nobody thought I was calling you a murderer. Because, well, I wasn’t. It just isn’t in the text there. You would have to approach the article eisegetically and strip particular sentences from their context in order to come to such a conclusion. And of course you’re welcome to do so. I just don’t think that’s a very good interpretation of the text.

    Look, man. I’m sorry if you think I’m calling you names. I’m not. Though the article’s not even about that, I am saying you wrote a terrible review and did a very poor job interpreting the film. You’re welcome to disagree with me and think that I did a terrible job interpreting both the film and your review. You’re welcome to call me your antagonist, because in a certain sense I clearly am. I’m also your brother and because of that, I’m sorry that you took my words poorly. There was no ill will behind it. I do think you are being overly sensitive since I didn’t really say anything that impinges upon your character, but I’m sorry for your perception of it. By the end of the article, it becomes quite clear that you’re not some bogeyman but simply some guy who wrote a review I disagreed with and felt was harmful.

    Seth T. Hahnes last blog post..20090417.teaParty

  • http://twitter.com/brannonhancock Brannon Hancock

    @Seth – given Prof. Karounos’ reception of your first thorough clarification – and I’m referring to his reduction of it to a “walking-back” – I’d say you might, unfortunately, be wasting your time, words, and creative energies trying to placate him.

    @Prof. Karounos – it appears to me that you misapprehend Seth’s review of your review as egregiously as he accuses your review of misapprehending Coraline. He is, of course, exercising self-critique of his own tendency to be hurt by, take personal offense to, and jump to conclusions about a Christian brother (you) with whom he so vehemently disagrees, whose words and actions (by what other means shall we judge a man?) perpetuate a view of Christians and of Christianity that he apparently finds heartbreaking and counterproductive. Of course, he is doing this while criticizing your review of the film, so perhaps the line between criticizing your words and criticizing you becomes fuzzy, especially for the one being criticized. I would like to say that you need only apply the same hermeneutical nuance to your reading of Seth’s post as you do to the films you review…then again, your sensitivity to nuance is precisely what has been called into question here. So what I’ll say instead is: I challenge you to demonstrate otherwise, if not in this exchange, then in your future film reviews.

    A postscript, @anyone who might be interested: I am a Trevecca alum (a product of their English dept. in fact) and while I did not study under Prof. Karounos, I have met him on a few occasions, one being a faculty research symposium in which he proposed something like a Christian framework for interpreting secular films. I was troubled then not only by what struck me as a thinly-veiled fundamentalism underpinning his whole approach, but also by questionable academic sources (outdated, for ex.) and a methodology that seemed (again: at least to me) to begin with more than mere suspicion – more like hostility – toward secular culture. Having worked on film and theology myself – and trying to keep this dispassionate and intellectually credible – the best I can do is commend the more recent interdisciplinary approaches to religion/theology/Christianity+film suggested in the work of Clive Marsh, Craig Detweiler, Tom Beaudoin, Gerard Loughlin and David Jasper. The conversation – within the academy at least – has moved pretty far past analogies, archetypes and elaborate games of “spot-the-Christ-figure.” I’m not saying there isn’t a place for conservative Christian reviews of movies that take Hollywood to task for giving a platform to statements, themes and values that contradict the Gospel message, or that advise Christians as to the kinds of movies they should avoid or rush out to see. But it bothers me when I see this dressed up in some kind of academic authority. Of course, even more troublesome is the reality that the “popular” reviews (i.e. not vetted or peer reviewed) published on sites like christiananswers.net have an influence that extends far wider than most of what comes out of the academy.

    Let me also say on behalf of my alma mater that I don’t believe Prof. Karounos’ perspective on the relationship between Christianity and culture to be representative of Trevecca Nazarene University as a whole.

  • http://nowheresville.us Seth T. Hahne

    @Brannon – Thanks for your comment and your recommendations. I had been toying with a similar conclusion but was still holding out hope that Prof. Karounos would shake off his misapprehension of my own words and perhaps engage, at least, the article’s criticisms if not even the article’s purpose.

    So far as the works of Clive Marsh, Craig Detweiler, Tom Beaudoin, Gerard Loughlin, and David Jasper, do you have any starting texts that you might recommend for those (like myself) who are entirely unfamiliar with their work (as I am)? I’ve been enjoying M. Leary’s approach to film as an example of a Christian and film critic who doesn’t get himself tied up in knots over some of the things that I find discouraging in the pop evangelical approach.

    Seth T. Hahnes last blog post..20090417.teaParty

  • http://twitter.com/brannonhancock Brannon Hancock

    @Seth (and whomever) – I’m going to list some books that are on the more “academic” (i.e. less “popular”) side of things, and written for the classroom or for an academic audience. I’m not as familiar w/ M. Leary but will check him out on your recommendation. While this is not an uncritical endorsement (on my part) of these texts or the views put forth therein, some worthwhile titles include:

    Clive Marsh’s Theology Goes to the Movies (Routledge, 2007) is a great starting point for mapping the terrain and as an example of one approach that is definitively and confessionally Christian, but is also pretty “plural” and very respectful of culture’s attempts to “theologize” in its own voice. His earlier Cinema and Sentiment is also decent, but I’d recommend Theology Goes to the Movies if you’re only going to dive into ONE of the books I suggest.

    Craig Detweiler’s Into the Dark (Baker, 2008) is specifically about film – I admit I haven’t read it yet, but his A Matrix of Meanings (Baker, 2003, with Barry Taylor) is a good starting point on Christianity and popular culture more broadly and includes a chapter on film. I’ve heard Craig speak, know a bit about his teaching at Fuller and Biola, and read his column in Worship Leader magazine regularly, I think he’s got a healthy, hospitable perspective.

    Clive Marsh’s edited volume (w/ Gaye Ortiz) called Explorations in Theology and Film (Blackwell, 1997) is a decent collection of essays, but even it, for the most part, feels rather passe now (again: a lot of archetype and analogy criticism). David Jasper’s concluding essay calling to question the whole venture of “religion+film” and how we approach the task, is probably the most significant contribution to the volume.

    As far as Jasper’s work goes, he hasn’t written any single book that deals with film exclusively, but his The Sacred Desert (Blackwell, 2004) does address film here and there. Hermeneutically, I think Prof. Jasper’s approach to interdisciplinary theological thinking is far more sophisticated and fruitful than any other that I have encountered – but I am also biased because he is my PhD supervisor! :-)

    Others who I know are doing respectable work in this field include Robert K. Johnston (Reel Spirituality / Reframing Theology and Film), Jolyon Mitchell & S. Brent Plate (The Theology and Film Reader), Chris Deacy (Theology and Film: Challenging the Sacred/Secular Divide, w/ Gaye Ortiz), and John Lyden (Film as Religion). The pioneer of the field, in many ways, is John R. May (Religion in Film / Image and Likeness); his work is a bit dated now, but lays a lot of the foundation for current scholarship – May’s early work (going back to the 80s) gets certain (obvious) discussions out of the way, freeing his followers to move on to other things.

    Also, for books in this genre, I’ve always thought this one has the best title: Cinéma Divinité: Religion, Theology And The Bible In Film (eds. Eric S. Christianson, Peter Francis, William R. Telford) – I have a couple colleagues who contributed to it, and have read a few of the essays, but not all.

  • http://nowheresville.us Seth T. Hahne

    @Brannon – Thanks for the tips. I downloaded the free Kindle sample of The Sacred Desert and Theology Goes to the Movies to get a feel for their content. Unfortunately, Explorations in Theology and Film is not available yet in digital (I did, however, use Amazon’s Look Inside feature and it randomly threw me to an essay on Ed Scissorhands invoking both Jung and Campbell, so I can see what you mean). Jasper’s contribution sounds worthwhile though. Do you know if that essay is available in any other form—say, on the internet?

    In any case, thanks for taking the time.

    Seth T. Hahnes last blog post..20090417.teaParty

  • http://twitter.com/brannonhancock Brannon Hancock

    @Seth – email me at brannon(dot)hancock (at) gmail (dot)com – I can probably scan Jasper’s article and send it your way. It’s called “on systematizing the unsystematic” (or something like that – don’t have it in front of me!). Thanks for the back-n-forth. Judging from your original post and the ensuing discussion, I’d say we’re coming from very similar places and are striving after very similar things.

  • Michael Karounos

    Brannon,

    That’s perfect. You met me a “few times.” I don’t remember speaking to you more than two minutes once and not at all the second, yet you are qualified to judge me as fundamentalist, outdated, suspicious, and hostile! You would also presume to decide how “academic authority” can be put to use and by whom. I am particularly amused by the “outdated” remark. Now, I don’t pretend to be a major scholar; I am not. But when you publish something equally worthy let me know and I’ll read it. Until then you’re just engaging in the usual graduate student blather that puffs oneself up without contributing anything to the knowledge base of the discipline.

    Lastly, I am fascinated by putative Christians who know all the theory but who cannot engage in a dialogue without demonizing their opponent. The very first thing you ever address to me is an insult and an admonition to not be thin-skinned! It takes a certain kind of narcissism to assume both moral and intellectual superiority over a person you don’t know and one who is more accomplished in his field than you are in yours. The proof of a person’s character is in how he addresses those whom he is supposedly obligated to love. I don’t even address my “enemies” as you addressed me. You’re free to do so, but I’m struck at how you seem to personally resent my opinions and wish to not only characterize them but also characterize me.

    If there are any open-minded people on this site, I leave them to judge between us. I see no point in making enemies or quarreling continuously against new opponents.

  • http://scott-schultz.blogspot.com/ Scott

    To be fair, Professor, didn’t you engage in this dialogue by demonizing your opponent?

    I think most people would’ve been very impressed if you had entered the comment thread here by actually dealing with the actual points made by Mr. Hahne in his piece.

    Scotts last blog post..Additionally

  • http://twitter.com/brannonhancock Brannon Hancock

    Wow – “putative Christians.” So now our Christianity is being called into question…? This thread sure when downhill fast. I think it’s probably best for me to continue this with Prof. Karounos via email and outside of this public arena. As a newcomer to this blog myself, I apologize if my contribution has done more harm than good. I’ve spent enough time interacting on blogs to know that the intrusion of a new voice can throw the whole dynamic off-kilter.

    I’d like to state, for the record, that I do not have any enemies, here or elsewhere, and that I do love Prof. Karounos (and not merely because I am obligated to). I appreciate his teaching ministry at Trevecca and his investment in the lives of his students. I did not intend the terms fundamentalism, outdated, suspicious, and hostile to characterize his person, but rather, his approach, his academic sources, and methodology, respectively, and I do not presume to be either morally or intellectually superior to him.

    Finally, just so it doesn’t slide by unchecked, I would point out that I have contributed to “the knowledge base of the discipline” in my published work, as a bit of Googling will reveal.

    Peace, y’all. I’ll continue to keep an eye on this blog if that’s okay – I like what I’ve read so far.

  • Michael Karounos

    Scott: thanks for the civilized comment. However, please point out to me where I used language against Seth that can even remotely be characterized as ad hominem.

    Brannon: had you begun with the latter tone, and not with a personal attack, we could have had a discussion. It doesn’t speak well of you that the first thing you ever write about/to me is a public smear. I’ll leave it at that. Best wishes.

  • http://twitter.com/brannonhancock Brannon Hancock

    @Prof. Karounos – please avoid confusing the remarks I made about your publicly presented work with what might legitimately be called “personal attack” or “public smear.” If that’s how it came across, I really am sorry.

    However, “…the usual graduate student blather that puffs oneself up without contributing anything to the knowledge base of the discipline” sure strikes me as being at least remotely ad hominem (in addition to being simply untrue)…but then, that was directed at me and not Seth, right?

    One final observation, if I may: isn’t the point of writing down and then publishing your thoughts/ideas/reactions (etc) the hope that they will be read, scrutinized, and commented upon? Whether in the informal spit-balling environment of a blog or the more selective venue of academic journals, do we not put our ideas out there not to show off our smarts, but, with the humble acknowledgment that we are perhaps not the best judges of our own biases and intellectual flaws, in hope that the challenge and criticism we invite will help us hone our thinking? I’m still baffled as to why you haven’t specifically addressed Seth’s critique or sought to defend what you wrote! Instead, you’ve merely sought to characterize Seth (and then me) as mean-spirited, inhospitable, pretentious, and un-Christian. I don’t get it. If you don’t want your words to be criticized, don’t write them down, or at least don’t make them public.

    Sorry…I probably should have just stuck with continuing this in a private email…

  • Michael Karounos

    Brannon,

    Thank you for the clarification on the comments. Objectively speaking (as much as possible), I don’t know if the distinction you made, and which seemed clear to you, can ever be apparent to a stranger about whom they are made.

    As for controversy being a good thing, perhaps, but the standard of measurement I always apply is that I try never to write what I would not say to a person’s face. If you think of your comments as being said to a person’s face they take on a different tone. Yours came across as already offended, perhaps at other things I had written or the symposium presentation. So you jumped in with a chip I was not aware of and judged me not on the basis of the subject here but at something else. The impression is, in current parlance, “Dude, who are you and why are you hatin’ on me?”

    Anyway, that is the distinction I make and stand by. Disagree by all means, but don’t degrade, insult, etc. The denials I have read on this page about “That’s not REALLY what I meant” are disingenuous. I’m attacked for what my words “mean,” but the attacks on them somehow have a magical reader-response variability that allows them to double as one thing to the writer and a (mistaken) other thing to the target. Language doesn’t work that way except in a postmodern context which I repudiate as any kind of ethical defense.

    In regards to your “outdated” comment, here’s the thing. Your work, if it is au courant, is already “outdated.” The work the top postmodernists at Vanderbilt were doing when I was there five years ago, au courant then, is already shifting to something else. It’s the nature of the theoretical beast to look for the next new thing. Theory qua theory consumes itself.

    However, archetypes and analogical criticism will always be with us because that is how artists convey and how audiences receive information. Your review of Eternal Sunshine refers to typology, romance, and symbols, the very mode of thought you called “outdated.” But these are universally acceptable modes of signification. You don’t need to know Frye to recognize the movie’s lovers meet, lovers split, lovers regain one another convention. It not only is that way, it MUST be that way for genre movies to function. Of course, Indie films are sui generis and, I might argue, /require/ theory because the filmmakers are theorists themselves.

    Moreover, as Christians, we likewise MUST read the Bible typologically: Jesus is a “type” of Melchizedek. Parables,the primary mode of Jesus’ teaching, are analogical. Paul’s writing is replete with metaphors and similes, all analogical modes of communication. So, to say “The conversation – within the academy at least – has moved pretty far past analogies, archetypes and elaborate games of “spot-the-Christ-figure” is to miss your own point: that’s in the academy. We’re not in the academy. When you write popular film reviews you write to the audience.

    So, my encouragement to any Christian who comments on a public site is three-fold: 1) remember that you are a Christian; 2) remember that you are writing to a real person; 3) remember the venue and what its readership is.

    And thank you for dialing back.
    Blessings.

  • David Dunham

    Boy this devolved into a bunch of bickering didn’t it…maybe we could return to an actual discussion of the text or we could just call an end to the “discussion”


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